Toy Fair – North America’s largest trade show for the toy industry – was held in person for the first time since 2020 last weekend, Sept. 30-Oct. 3, at the Javits Center. This date is a mere two weeks before NYCC Comic Con, which traditionally sees some of the same locals stream into a facility that is about 10 times as crowded. A lot of people could do one or the other but not both.

It was a fact that everyone seemed to be complaining about when I arrived on Sunday. But I soon learned that this cramped Fall date was a one time thing – that very morning, the Toy Association had announced a change in dates – and venues – in one of the most passive aggressive official press releases I’ve ever read.

The news was big though: the next Toy Fair will be held March 1-4 2025 at Javits. In 2026 it will move to New Orleans for at least a three year stint, to be held January 17-20, 2026; January 9-12, 2027; and January 15-18, 2028. The reasoning? A bait and switch from toy manufacturers, as the salty press release revealed:

“Prior to the pandemic, we heard repeated calls that changing manufacturing lead times and retailer buying patterns demanded a shift of the iconic tradeshow’s timing from February into an earlier fall timeline. These factors and similar research findings were accelerated by the pandemic and as a board we were responsive,” said Aaron Muderick, chairman of The Toy Association and founder of Crazy Aaron’s. “Now, behaviors and inputs have returned to more traditional views that Toy Fair’s key audiences find the most value in a North American trade event taking place in the first quarter of the year, ideally mid-January. We have again listened and responded by crafting an optimal pattern based on the needs of those we serve.”

In other words: we fucked around by listening to you complainers, and found out that a Fall Toy Fair is not a great idea. There’s much more in a FAQ that investigates all the factors that went into moving the event, including that only a few convention centers large enough are available and New Orleans was really the only viable option. There are worse things than January in NoLa, for sure. Whether I’ll ever make the trip….dubious.

I’m sympathetic to the Toy Association’s wavering before the waffling of its members, though. Trade shows are still figuring out whether they need to exist in this new world, especially big expensive ones that require lots of glitzy displays.

Not every manufacturer decided it was worth it, including the very biggest: Hasbro, which once offered a fancy stand alone showroom for press, buyers and influencers, now throws its own big event, Hasbro PulseCon, a week prior, and had a smaller set up this year. (The Beat was not invited.) Mattel, riding off a Barbie high, didn’t show up at all, and other big companies sat it out, and some that once had fairly elaborate press events just had showroom tours. For years I’ve taken a photo at th MElissa & Doug photo booth – this year they claimed they didn’t have one and you couldn’t even SEE into the booth.

As the local papers revealed, the fall move was a logistical misstep, but for someone who just likes to wander around and take pictures of toys, it was still a fun afternoon.

@comixace Toy Fair animatronics at Schleich. #toyfair2023 #schleich ♬ original sound – ComixAce


As with other shows I’ve been to, it seems that booth designers spent the pandemic thinking about how they could come back bigger and better than ever. Schleich had animatronics: a huge dragon and a roaring lion. Jazwares, a relatively recently emerged huge player, had some of the best displays I’ve ever seen at Toy Fair. Bandai had one of the biggest booths at the show, a sprawling wonderland of beloved anime/manga properties, including endless Luffys, Gokus and Godzillas.

While I didn’t go to Hasbro’s showroom, where Marvel reigns supreme, without them and Mattel on the floor, superheroes seemed about as relevant as a plate of cold spaghetti (aside from the stalwart Diamond booth, showing off the only Black Adam toy you will ever see.)

As with last year’s NYCC, Toy Fair was anime anime anime, everywhere you looked. Not that it was a bad thing. The character designs are so visceral and imaginative, rippling with energy that the 765th version of a Bruce Timm Batman just can’t muster any more. While many booths were pushing Harry Potter (and one spokesperson told me “We just talk about the books; we don’t want to have any association with JK Rowling”) it just seems old and played out, without any new stories ever coming out and anything that did come out tainted by the creator’s bigotry.

I don’t really keep up with the toy industry, so I didn’t know where to go to see the hot toys. However, I had vaguely heard of Jazwares Squishmallows but I wasn’t aware that huggable pillows were the hottest toy category. A new line of Pokemon Squishmallows was just one of the licensed offshoots that are coming from the company.

In a way, I was totally unsurprised by this. The last four years, we’ve been through hell, and we’re going through even more hell every day; having a soft, friendly toy to hug is probably one of the best options out there.

It stood in contrast to Funko, once the King of Toy Castle. Funko’s missteps are legend: destroying $35 million worth of product after over production, layoffs, their founder taking a mysterious leave of absence. While once the Funko booth was staffed by highly alert employees who made sure you didn’t take anything, the mood was a lot more lax (or depressed) in ‘23.

But yeah, I’m not surprised that instead of a hard plastic Funko people’s affections have shifted to cuddly pillows.

Abd Funko is hardly the only company squeezed by higher manufacturing costs and slipping sales. The high end collectibles market seems to have slumped from its towering pandemic sales, abd toy sales in general are slowing, probably due to the economic pinch we’re all feeling.

But there were still items that anyone would want on a shelf. Neca had some sharp looking Gargoyles toys. I know I said superhero stuff was tired, but these are underexposed characters and still look great. TY – maker of Beanie Babies – was one of the major sponsors of the show and produced a clever series of posters with Beanies replacing well known art figures. There were cool things everywhere and the fall date did make Halloween displays seem more festive, although those orders were placed long ago. And some spectacle slipped in. At one point there was a confluence of a happy hour at one booth, a cotton candy machine at another and a side show complete with trapeze artists swinging overhead.

I could only attend for one day due to my schedule – a main concern was not getting Covid so I would miss NYCC and I just didn’t want to press my luck, so I didn’t, perhaps, get the full Toy Fair experience. As usual, the fun part was taking photos. So here’s a gallery. I’ll add captions later on….or not.

Oh yeah one more thing: the bags that Wild Republic was giving out were THE BEST BAGS EVER AT A SHOW. Heavy, well designed material with PIPING. It was all I could do not to grab piles of these bags to give away as gifts, but I tried to be considerate – but trust me these bags will get a lot of use at Stately Beat Manor!

Gallery 1 – Bandai

Gallery 2: Miscellaneous